Tasmanian devils evolve resistance to contagious cancer | Science News

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Tasmanian devils evolve resistance to contagious cancer

Genetic tweaks helping threatened marsupials beat deadly tumors

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11:00am, August 30, 2016
Tasmanian devil

SURVIVAL GEAR  Some genetic variants may have allowed a small number of Tasmanian devils to withstand a deadly contagious facial tumor that has killed up to 95 percent of them in some locales. The discovery could be good news for the species. 

A few Tasmanian devils have started a resistance movement against a contagious cancer that has depleted their numbers.

Since devil facial tumor disease was first discovered in 1996, it has wiped out about 80 percent of the Tasmanian devil population. In some places, up to 95 percent of devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) have succumbed to facial tumors, spread when devils bite each other. Scientists had believed the tumor to be universally fatal. But a new study finds that a small number of devils carry genetic variants that help them survive the disease — at least long enough to reproduce, researchers report August 30 in Nature Communications. The finding could be important for the survival of the species.

Previous studies have shown that the virulent tumor can hide itself from the devil’s immune system (

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